High Crimes and Vacuum Cleaners: Tom Steyer’s Open-Ended View of Impeachment

A Party to Impeach event was held on Penn’s campus on February 17. Tom Steyer, renowned financier of lost causes, made an appearance as the primary event speaker and benefactor.

Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much.

A curious citizen, I attended in an attempt to better understand the proposed actions by which our current president could be impeached. Instead, I endured an hour of Mr. Steyer prattling on about vague issues and concerns. An actual legal claim? Not a chance. The closest he got was the implication that Trump had failed as of yet to take action against Russia for their meddling in the 2016 election.

Of course, wanting to give Steyer the benefit of the doubt, I went to his website, where he assured me I would find five constitutional scholars supporting his claims. I did not. It was only after traversing several different websites that I could find such a panel in the form of a C-SPAN segment. Quite honestly, I can’t imagine it is too difficult to find five constitutional scholars who agree with a given position, so I moved on to the claims. The Need to Impeach website listed eight potential charges. They ranged from the classic obstruction of justice, to the more tenuous charge of undermining the freedom of the press. Validating the charges would require too much speculation, so I will limit myself to Steyer’s statements at the event. These address, among other matters, the underlying premise of the accusations: Donald Trump can be impeached because Democrats don’t like his actions.

The following are a series of Steyer’s remarks from the event.

“Impeachment is the biggest issue in the United States of America.”

What a statement. What courage, to call out the real issues in the U.S. and bring them into the light. The national deficit is a pittance, immigration a non-issue, and foreign threats like North Korea and Russia are mere proxies for the larger problem. Sexual abuse, mental health, and education? Relatively minor annoyances. The declining American economy and infrastructure, the opioid epidemic, the healthcare system, and the billion other issues the United States currently faces are but small potatoes in comparison to impeachment. Because, as we all know, before Donald Trump, our problems were far more manageable. Once we get him out of the way, then our “biggest issue” will be resolved.

“Impeachment is a political thing, not criminal.”

Mr. Steyer actually is correct in this belief, in the same way that eggs are technically boneless chickens. It is a political branch, Congress, which conducts impeachment proceedings, not subject to the courts. Theoretically, Congress could attempt to do whatever it wished on minimal charges. Even so, we assume they will not do so because they took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution” and are subject to the will of the American people. To begin to remove from office an individual put into place by that same population is dangerous ground to tread unless there are legitimate charges. Furthermore, I would contest that this process may not be as political as Steyer implied. It is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, after all, who presides over the trial in the Senate. The position is supposed to be above such political maneuvering and partisanship.

What the Democrats’ billionaire buddy was trying to show is that a president can be tried without having committed a crime. True, to an extent. It is reasonably well-established that the phrase “High crimes and misdemeanors” can refer to a number of actions, not all of them directly criminalized. Still, all presidential impeachments to this point have been related to criminal charges, and the examples of non-criminal alternatives indicated by legal scholars often are so clearly extreme that they lack application in reality.

When one breaks down the proposed eight violations, we find no similar abuse of power. Indeed, what few facts the impeachment supporters actually possess may be addressed easily by the proper checks and balances of the Federal government. If, for example, Trump tried tomorrow to fire Paul Ryan from the position of Speaker of the House, the Supreme Court would rule it clearly unconstitutional. He has no ability to do so. Is this worth impeachment? Beyond the ridiculousness of the situation, I don’t think so. If, however, Trump were to order the military to ignore the Supreme Court and depose Speaker Ryan forcibly, that would constitute an abuse of power and an impeachable offense. The difference is evident and thus far, the offenses fall into the former category. Partisanship, unfortunately for Mr. Steyer, does not validate impeachment.

“[Nixon] did not happen because there was a ‘smoking gun.’”

Let’s review some history.

August 5th, 1974 – Nixon releases what would later be called the “smoking gun” tape. Immediately afterwards, the eleven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who had voted against the articles of impeachment state they will change their votes.

August 8th, 1974 – Nixon announces his resignation.

Considering Tom Steyer was alive during this time, I find it hard to give him a pass on this one. Conclusive evidence was the reason for Nixon’s imminent impeachment, and a lack of evidence very much influences the present conditions. The implication that “We already know Trump breaks the law every day” does not hold up very well in light of our country’s “innocent until proven guilty” doctrine.

“It should be really hard to impeach a president.”

I agree.

I am not Trump’s greatest fan. He is flawed, he has made mistakes, and he will likely make many more. To suggest otherwise would be foolish. Nevertheless, impeachment is among the most drastic actions Congress can take. It should not be taken lightly. Both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have called it a premature proposal. Similarly, Senator Bernie Sanders said Democrats should avoid “jumping the gun.” For once, I agree with all three.

One thought on “High Crimes and Vacuum Cleaners: Tom Steyer’s Open-Ended View of Impeachment

  1. We should congratulate Steyer for turning the USA political scene into a never-ending episode of the Jerry Springer Show. There are plenty of problems in both parties, so we are definitely living in times of “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. But this whole idea of impeachment because of dislike needs to be ignored. It is ludicrous and should get no further attention anywhere. I wouldn’t accept it against Obama and I wouldn’t accept it against Trump. Our system works because we all can run for office if we think we can do better, not because those with the most money can take people out of office when they don’t like their ideas. I cannot help but feel like this is “sore loser syndrome”. Let’s move on, people. It is clear we can improve on both sides.

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